A writer with self-professed “Russia Love”, Ian Frazier thoroughly documents (complete with background history and any other vignette he finds interesting) his five trips to Siberia – the last in 2009. Luckily for Frazier, I’m a history and interesting fact lover, and so I didn’t mind his literary departures from strict travelogue.
For those who love to travel and love to read books about travel, this is a gem. Especially since I doubt I will ever travel to Siberia. After reading Frazier’s book, I honestly don’t think I’d ever want to. As a North Dakota native, Siberia reminds me of the uglier step-sister of my state. They look alike – they are both endless expanses of plains (although Siberia does have forests), the “mountains” are really just a few hills, it’s filled with mosquitoes in the summertime and it’s very, very cold in the winter. The people seem nice in both places, but the culture is so very different. Bribes are commonplace in Russia, and efficiency is non-existent. In fact, Frazier’s description of Siberian towns reminds me of walking into the late 20th century with a liberal sprinkling of garbage for decoration.
Like North Dakota, eastern Russia is sitting on some huge natural resources. Its oil deposits make it currently the largest oil producer in the world. The last chapter of Travels in Siberia is a fascinating look at how oil production and Vladimir Putin’s nationalizing the companies in this industry have made him and Russia a super economic power. Given that these comments were four years old, I just had to do a little research to see how this has changed in light of America’s surge in oil production due to fracking. It seems, not surprisingly, that centralized decision making is going to leave Russia’s energy-based economy in the dust. They don’t modernize, they don’t invest, and as of today, their exports are shrinking by double digit percentages. Frazier’s story of Russian negotiating tactics (ie, hanging the company representative upside down out of a flying helicopter to get them to sign an agreement favorable to Russia), leaves to me believe that few outside companies will be willing to help Russia come into the 21st century of oil production. That, and the threat of Putin stealing intellectual and real property. It’s no wonder the the United States is predicted to be the leader in oil production within the next four years.
Travels in Siberia is a fascinating book about an area of the world we seldom hear about.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2010